A Letter from Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez, serving in the Philippines
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“How many of you consider this church to be your home?” asked Rev. Gane Deslate during a recent Sunday sermon. This was on the same day as our annual assembly when we discuss and vote on the plans and budget for the upcoming year.
Many of the members sitting around me raised their hands, as did I, even though I admit that it’s taken some time to get to this point. I pride myself on remembering peoples’ names and their life situations and experiences, but it has been difficult to connect with people, let alone know their names or situations in a natural way. It wasn’t easy to transition from being in front of people while serving as pastoral staff of a local church to now sitting in the pews. Although we worshipped in the English language, there still seemed to be many invisible walls.
Out of the blue, about a year ago, Lola Mimi invited us to eat lunch at her home after Sunday worship service for the first time. Lola Mimi is a widow who lives with her grandnephew Coby, an easygoing law school student, and her newer companion Charlie, a brown chow-chow whose fur seems too unbearable for the Philippine weather. Lola Mimi often invites her church friends Lola Alice and her daughter Mary Elizabeth. While eating lunch, we have talked about culture, politics, and life in general. When we were not sure how we would meet people and get to know them, Lola Mimi took us in. Her lunch invitations happen almost every six weeks. During those rare times when we cannot join her, we always make a point of saying “yes” the next time.
Our local church, called the National City United Church, has become home as a result of many first milestones. This is where our daughter Aurelie first attended Sunday School instead of spending time in the nursery. It was in the church garden that her Sunday school friends introduced her to the sweet nectar of a soft red, star-shaped flower when they were playing hide-and-seek while the adults chatted for a few minutes after worship service. It’s where Juan preached his first-ever sermon in English. It’s also the church where I preached my first Christmas Eve sermon in December 2017 and Easter Sunday sermon several months ago. During our recent church-founding anniversary celebration, Juan and I joined other young adults in a Korean-pop themed dance contest. Many church members didn’t know that I could dance until that moment — even I didn’t know that I could dance until then!
During Holy Week, youth leaders asked Juan to serve as their game master for the annual youth camp. This youth group includes middle school, high school and college students. Many of the youth already knew our daughter because they were her Sunday school teachers. This was the first chance they have had to get to know Juan. I am certain that the youth leaders will ask him to join them in future events.
In early May, our church also hosted their first-ever Sports Day and Family Day rolled into one retreat. We were assigned to another intergenerational small group, which helped Juan and me meet new people again. After playing games on the bus ride to the retreat, a morning Zumba workout, organized games and swimming, as well as deeper conversations about our individual faith journeys, we felt very thankful to have enjoyed this extra time together.
During the retreat, Aurelie and I shared a room filled with about 10 bunk beds with women of all ages. Aurelie preferred to sleep on the top bunk next to one of her favorite Sunday School teachers, Camille. My lower-bunk neighbor Nanay Rose, Camille’s grandmother, only recently returned to the Philippines after having lived several years in Novi, Michigan. We were once almost neighbors in Michigan, and now we were bunk bed neighbors.
A new project at our home church has created more opportunities to learn and to plan together. Pastors, elders, music staff and I have been planning for Sunday worship services around the theme of “Understanding the Uprooted.” August is designated as Mission Month in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) church calendar. To be uprooted includes the experiences of church members moving for study or for love or for work from a far-flung province to the capital city of Manila; parents working abroad and now separated from their children; or children working abroad separated from their parents.
Our Sunday worship services will include a month-long sermon series, testimonies from members about their uprooted experiences, and special music. Through the sermons, we hope to understand the Biblical foundation and basis for caring for migrants. Through the testimonies, we will hear about individuals who are serving abroad as land-based or sea-based migrants, and the children and spouses and parents who are left behind in the Philippines. New lyrics with themes of welcoming the stranger from Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, a U.S. Presbyterian teaching elder, are being introduced to familiar hymns, such as “The Church’s One Foundation.”
If this is your first time reading about us, or even if you already know us, we hope that this letter has provided a glimpse into our life in the Philippines. Thank you for taking the time to get to know us and some of our new friends better by reading this letter. Your prayers, words of encouragement, and financial support will help us to continue serving people through taking part in God’s work in the world.
Your friends in Christ,
Cathy, Juan, and Aurelie
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Tags: Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez
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